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Rwanda wins Security Council seat as new report blasts support for Congo mutineers

Rwandan authorities have harassed a number of local employees assisting a U.N. Security Council panel that has accused the Rwandan government of sponsoring and directing a military insurgency in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, in violation of U.N. sanctions, according to confidential documents obtained by Turtle Bay.

Steve Hege, the coordinator of the U.N. Security Council Group of Experts, informed the Security Council in a confidential October 12 letter that it harbored "very serious security concerns for the physical safety of its drivers and interpreters who have already been the victims of harassment by Rwandan officials." The letter, which was obtained by Turtle Bay, expressed concern that the U.N. "group's wide network of collaborators and sources remain extremely vulnerable to targeted retaliatory attacks."

The warning to the council comes as the Group of Experts concluded a second hard-hitting report documenting Rwanda's role in organizing a group of Congolese military mutineers -- known as M23 -- that has been fighting government forces in eastern Congo.

The report, which has not been published but has been read by Turtle Bay, claims that Rwandan Defense Minister James Kabarebe exercises effective command over the mutineers, and that the Rwandan government continues to direct M23's military operations in eastern Congo. The report, which was first reported Tuesday by Reuters, also accuses Uganda of providing military, financial, and political support to the movement.

Rwanda's foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, issued a statement today accusing the panel's coordinator of engaging in a "political campaign" aimed at smearing the country's reputation, and said that "Rwanda will not allow itself to be dragged any deeper into this farce by responding to the Group's far-fetched but fact-free assertions."

"Every UN member-state should find cause for concern that these expert panels feel entitled to treat sovereign states in such an appalling fashion," she said. "Who are these unelected, unaccountable individuals to abuse the authority granted to them by the UN to pursue political vendettas and deny even basic procedural fairness to a country like Rwanda, a member of the United Nations for half a century?"

A diplomat at the Rwandan mission, Olivier Nduhungirehe, denied that Rwanda is targeting individuals supporting the U.N. probe.

The revelations are coming to light just as a U.N. General Assembly vote today endorsed Rwandan's nomination to serve a two-year term (from 2013-2014) as one of the Security Council's five newly elected temporary members. Security Council diplomats have said that it is unlikely that the 15-nation council would impose penalties in response to the report's findings.

The Group of Experts first accused Rwanda of aiding the M23 mutineers back in June, prompting the United States, Britain, and other European government to freeze military assistance and other aid.

But the latest report says that Rwanda has ignored appeals from the United States and other outside powers to cease its support for the mutineers.

For instance, the report charges that Rwandan and Ugandan forces participated in an M23 military offensive in July, extending the group's territorial gains in the region of Rutushuru. "Rwanda's support to M23 and other armed groups has continued in all categories of arms embargo violations previously documented by the Group. Rwandan officials exercise overall command and strategic planning for M23," the report charged.

The expert group called on Rwanda and Uganda to "cease" its violation of the U.N. arms embargo on all foreign forces and rebels groups in eastern Congo and to submit regular reports to the Security Council on the steps it is taking to halt the M23's activities. It also calls on governments to reconsider future military assistance to Rwanda and Uganda if they continue to back the mutineers.

France, meanwhile, introduced a draft statement calling on Rwanda and Uganda to halt their support for M23. The draft, which is still being negotiated, condemns the M23 and governments providing it with "external support" -- a veiled reference to Rwanda and Uganda. It also calls on all states, including Rwanda and Uganda, to step up cooperation with the Group of Experts, and demands that they "ensure the safety of its members, and unhindered and immediate access, in particular, to persons, documents and sites."

The expert panel has accused the Rwandan military leadership of carrying out a "wide ranging" campaign to convince Congolese business leaders, politicians, and former rebels to join the M23 mutiny with the aim of prosecuting "a new war to obtain a secession of both Kivus," the eastern Congolese provinces that share a border and ethnic and historical ties to Rwanda.

The M23 movement was founded by a former Congolese mutineer, Laurent Nkunda, but the current mutiny was led by Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese rebel and accused war criminal who was appointed a general in the Congolese army, known as the FARDC, in 2005 as part of a peace deal, and Col. Sultani Makenga, another former rebel who defected from the army. But, according to the expert panel, they took their orders from the Rwandan military chief.

"The government of Rwanda (GoR) continues to violate the arms embargo through direct military support to M23 rebels, facilitation of recruitment, encouragement and facilitation of FARDC desertions, as well as the provision of arms and ammunition, intelligence, and political advise," the report states. "M23s de facto chain of command includes General Bosco Ntaganda and culminates with the Rwandan Minister of Defense General James Kabarebe."

"Senior government of Uganda (GoU) officials have also provided support to M23 in the form of direct troop reinforcements in DRC territory, munitions deliveries, technical assistance, joint planning, political advice, and facilitation of external relations. Units of the Ugandan People's Defense Forces (UPDF) and the Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) jointly supported M23 in a series of attacks in July, 2012, to take over the major towns of Rutuhuru territory."

Efforts to reach the Ugandan mission to the United Nations were unsuccessful. But the Ugandan government characterized the report as "rubbish, rubbish, rubbish," according to Reuters.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

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